Mana Saleh Almanajam and Shaker Mohsen, two Saudi Arabian USF students, were jailed after they rode a Hillsborough school bus on its way to Wharton High School in New Tampa. Both are enrolled in the English Language Institute. The incident has risen more than a few eyebrows for various reasons.
Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said they both meant no harm and because “they were from Saudi Arabia, that escalated the situation.” Whenever a minority is arrested, race is always a potential factor. However, in this case the reason the two were treated with suspicion is because they were acting suspiciously.
According to the Tampa Tribune, one of the men was wearing a black trench coat, which are now prohibited in many schools due to the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School in 1999. While it may seem discriminatory to suspect someone based on their choice of clothing, in this case it was warranted – who wears any kind of coat during the end of May in Florida, when temperatures rarely drop below 85 degrees during the day? Furthermore, though the two may not be aware of the circumstances surrounding the Columbine massacre, ignorance is no saving grace. When in a country that is not one’s own, it’s important to be aware of the cultural atmosphere, as anyone who’s attempted to order a black and tan in Ireland can attest.
The two sat in the back of the bus speaking Arabic and were laughing. When asked where they were from, they said Morocco, which was untrue. So what was their reasoning for lying about where they are from?
Bedier told news reporters on the day they were released that both men did not understand the U.S. reaction in a post-Sept. 11 world. It may not be the most sensitive or politically correct concession, but people tend to fear what is foreign to them, especially in situations where that fear may be warranted – such as a bus full of high school kids.
Their country of origin was not the only lie they told. Both men gave different stories about why they were on the bus. Conflicting stories arouse suspicion whenever speaking to the police.
Bedier said they did not know what bus they were riding, which could be understandable. However, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman J.D. Callaway, one of the men said they wanted to go to Wharton to look around and experience the high school. Both stories cannot be true.
Both of the men are enrolled in USF English Language Institute and are on six-month visas. Has USF been slacking on teaching them the basics of living in America? How to get from place to place seems like an integral part of learning to survive in a new society.
This is not a case of racism or discrimination. This is a case of keeping children safe and upholding protocol. Most parents would hope the police would take interest in any 20somethings riding the school bus with their children, no matter their race.